The title pretty well sums up my position. I’m doing what I swore I’d never do again after leaving the theater. I’m watching World War Z on Netflix and wondering exactly how much money they dumped into Max Brooks’ bank account in order to make him sell his soul and agree to ruin one of the greatest horror novels of the last twenty years by turning it into this spectacle of craptacular proportions? I mean, at least 28 Days Later let you believe that the infected were just that, alive but infected with a disease that caused a massive case of excited delirium with homicidal tendencies and startling infection rates. Even ignoring the whole “rage infected monkey” business, it’s still a better film and better zombies than these cross eyed, teeth chattering pricks in WWZ. I take offense as both an enthusiast and author of horror fiction at the notion of these perpetually sprinting corpses and, even though I don’t totally agree with the comically slow zombies in the remake of Romero’s Night of the Living Dead in 1990, I have a greater problem with the sprinters.
So how should a completely fictitious creature behave? Well, I’m glad you asked.
Zombies come in a few varieties and it’s important in story telling to clearly define what your characters are facing in the way of opponents. If they’re living people infected by some chemical agent that effects the brain and causes those homicidal urges without any regard for self preservation or awareness, speed, strength and overall endurance are expected. These are arguably the most terrifying zombies, the Miami Freeway, face biting, Excited Delirium zombies but also the easiest to kill because, just like the people they attack, their bodies are as susceptible to injury and damage as any other. Human beings are both the most resilient, and the most fragile creatures in existence. A man can fall off the top of a sky scraper and walk away without a scratch or he can nick himself shaving and bleed out in seconds.
Voodoo/Black Magic zombies are controlled by some supernatural force or chemical sedation. They can run, climb and show feats of strength just like our Excited Delirium (E.D. *snicker*) zombies but are under the direct control of some living person and can be liberated from their trance like killing spree by stopping the puppeteer pulling the strings.
I’m going to lump all the demon possessed zombies into the category of Revenants, undead creatures brought back to life by supernatural powers and spirits. In history and myth, Revenants are creatures like vampires, ghouls, liches, draugrs and many, many more creatures who reanimate the dead in an attempt to bring chaos to the living or to seek some sort of revenge in death that they failed to achieve in life. Not only are they fast, strong and enduring, but they possess both supernatural powers and the ability to withstand countless amounts of damage and carnage wrought on whatever corpse they possess. Unlike a good head shot that will stop any other zombie mentioned here, that’s likely just going to piss them off.
Traditional Zombies or the Romero zombies that started the whole zombie sub-genre almost fifty years ago come from a variety of sources but all share the same features. Slow moving, not particularly smart, they move like a giant organism, a disease, eating its way through humanity. This walking cancer is caused by anything from chemicals, diseases and bacteria to alien parasites and radiation. They’re corpses that reanimate and begin to move around. While this doesn’t preclude them from being fast, at first, they gradually wear down over time as natural forces such as decomposition take hold.
So what makes a slow moving zombie more frightening, and believable, than a fast moving zombie? For starters, the ability to start out fast until rigor mortis and other natural effects of decomposition set in and force them to slow down. Then there is the inevitable shock and panic that would follow a mass resurrection. People refusing to accept the loss of their loved ones or, worse, thinking that it was some divine miracle that they had come back from the dead would be consumed and turned into more zombies to continue spreading the disease. Then you have military crack downs, lunatic cults, religious movements, survivalists, insurrectionists, anarchists, looters and just your common, run of the mill thugs and crazies all joining in the wholesale slaughter and swelling the ranks of the living dead. Human nature is what makes a zombie apocalypse such a frightening concept. “You must stop the killing or lose the war,” the old, blind priest said in Dawn of the Dead in 1974. While fast zombies would pose the same problems, it’s simply less believable to see an actual, undead being running on a regular basis.
I mean, sure, fast zombies would cause the same sort of issues but, let’s face it, the likelihood of a fast zombie truly being an “undead” creature is slim to none. If it’s got a pulse, you can put it down a lot faster than if it doesn’t. Center mass shots and bladed weapons would stop them a lot easier than a true zombie.
Yes, in the grand scheme of things I do understand that zombies are not real nor is it likely they will ever be real. All of this is simply a matter of opinion based on years of both enjoying and writing horror fiction and undead everything. For my own stories, I’ve put a lot of time and thought into the nature of the thing that drives my characters like Charlie Stone to do the things they do. Which reminds me, with NaNoWriMo now four days deep, I can happily report that Undertaker is in the 15,000 word count and growing. If I can keep up the momentum, we could be seeing Charlie and his crew up for publication at the first of the year. Cross your fingers.